Oliver Stone, a director who's never seen a top he didn't try to go over, amps up the viciousness in this tale of cross-border drug wars that puts the sag into saga. Blake Lively plays O, as in Ophelia, centre of a Laguna Beach ménage à trois with Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch), whose boutique cannabis racket produces "the best dope in the world".
Now they're being squeezed by a Mexican cartel who dispatch their foes by removing heads from shoulders – so it's not so much "deal or no deal" as "deal or decapitation". O regards it all as outlaw hijinks, comparing her two studs to Butch and Sundance, with herself in the Katharine Ross role: "Don't they get killed in the end?" says Ben. "Not the girl," replies O. But when she's kidnapped by psychotic enforcer Lado (Benicio Del Toro), the stakes are raised.
Stone, who co-wrote the overheated script, is aiming for a Traffic-style ensemble, flitting between Laguna Beach and Tijuana, where Salma Hayek in a Cleopatra wig runs the cartel with a notable brutality – torture, rape and summary executions her day's work. The problem is that knowing who the scumbags are doesn't necessarily make us sympathetic towards the heroes, who in any case prove themselves ready to maim and kill.
The violence is both horrific and gloating, as if the film-makers have recently discovered a love of torture porn. John Travolta as a sleazeball DEA man adds his own whiff of corruption to an already unsavoury stew of greed and opportunism. Why Blake Lively's woozy voiceover was thought to be a good idea is mysterious – it adds nothing. If Stone had whipped things along it might have made a passable thriller; instead, he bloats it to more than two hours, by which point you don't care who's blasting holes in whom, just so long as they bloody get on with it.